According to the press, gin is still big news. I’d be a little tired of reading this earthquake of a statement (along with the one about how speakeasy bars are really current now) if its reiteration didn’t have major benefits for us gin-loving consumers.
The gin market is saturated not only with new brands but new styles (see Gin Mare below) and this trend isn’t confined to the metropolis. A recent trip revealed that Asda in Great Yarmouth – hardly an epicentre of sophistication – stocked seven different gins in addition to their own-brand offerings. While it’s great that we no longer have to seek specialist shops for a choice of gin, what I find really exciting is that to get noticed in an ever-expanding market, brands are actively wooing consumers with inspired, booze-sponsored cultural events or educational tastings.
Here’s a look at some recent events I’ve attended:
Bombay Sapphire Imagination series
Bombay Sapphire’s Imagination series has run for a while but the first event I’ve managed to attend was the Shoreditch Book Slam. Free food and drink was complemented by equally interesting intellectual fare: Jeremy Dyson (of League of Gentleman fame) read from his new book, poet Ross Sutherland gave us an updated and hilarious version of Little Red Riding Hood and Joe Dunthorne (author of Submarine) instructed us in the dynamics of creating poetry. The result wasn’t too far from the night’s inspiration of a literature-infused, 19th century gin-palace.
Previously I’ve found Bombay Sapphire a bit sweet and lacking in lovely juniper but I really liked the Bramble I received on entry. Less successful was the stylishly presented French Martini (picture top) but the BS worked in the Gin Collins. (Note to self: sweeter gins are easily offset with citrus). I didn’t get to try the signature drink of the night but it sounds like a simple to make, palatable swig for a late summer’s night so I’ve included the recipe below.
Twisted Gin and Juice
50 ml Gin
10 ml Elderflower cordial
5-6 mint leaves
90 ml cloudy apple juice
The beautiful Imagination bar is next setting up at the V&A late on Fri 26 August. For further events visit Bombay Sapphires’s Facebook page.
I’m now rather keen to check out Bombay Saphhire’s gin den at Bistrotheque which is open until the end of the year – will update here once I have.
Made in Camden, the Roundhouse’s cafe/bar, periodically hosts wine and spirit tastings for their punters. I joined them for a session by Sacred Gin, which is microdistilled in Highgate.
Owner Ian Hart was already mixing martinis when I arrived and in the process of chilling his glasses with dry ice – a theatrical touch with wonderfully chilly results. Over the course of the evening we sampled most of the twelve, separately distilled botanicals the gin comprises, including juniper, cardamom, nutmeg and boswellia sacra (aka Hougary Frankincense – after which it is named).
In spite of some poor acoustics, Ian’s enthusiasm was very endearing and contagious, so we were all raring to go when the time came to create our own blend. My own mix of juniper, citrus (mixed lemon, orange AND pink grapefruit, cardamom, coriander and cinnamon) was frankly a winner – if only I could remember the ratios I used.
We then made gin and tonics with our blends, while Ian poured a finishing touch of a distillate float. On Ian’s suggestion I plumped for cardamom (which you can now buy in 70 cl bottles). The idea of finishing of a G&T or a martini with a float of single note distillate is a great one and, given enough flavours, open to endless experimentation.
Sacred Gin is not alone in distilling its botanicals separately but I feel it is unique in exploiting the possibilities of this process. Alongside the large bottles of individual distillate it also sells kits to allow you to blend your own gin at home. Which is my idea of a great present.
And FYI: Made in Camden’s food was pretty decent too.
For other gin tastings check out the excellent Juniper Society at Graphic Bar.
There is a huge demand in Spain for gin and so naturally they produce some pretty decent indigenous varieties. Gin Mare however, markets itself as the first Mediterranean gin. The creation of new spirit categories is always controversial and I’d be curious about what criteria any gin wishing to define itself as Mediterranean would have to meet. However, with four Mediterranean sourced botanicals, Gin Mare’s claim seems pretty well founded.
In conjunction with the London Cocktail Society, Gin Mare held a tasting at raw food restaurant Saf in Shoreditch. Armed with a delicious welcome drink (Gin Mare, rhubarb aperol, punt e mes and kummel – I’m working on recreating this) we defied the impending rain in Saf’s pretty little courtyard bar to learn more about what entails a Mediterranean Gin. The aforementioned botanicals were revealed to be Arbequina olives, basil, thyme and rosemary and Saf made a point of using these herbs in the accompanying canapes.
The trick to getting the best out of a gin like this is to complement the key botanicals – for instance a gin and tonic was made with the delicate 1724 tonic and a sprig of herb (basil proving rather delicious). I’d also like to have a go at making a thyme or rosemary martini with Mare.
Of course there is a danger that artisan and small batch producers like Sacred, will get swept away if this battle to dominate the gin market raises stakes too high for those with a limited marketing budget.
However, as brands like Gin Mare prove, there is growing, worldwide demand for this queen of spirits. Hopefully this will make sure that we continue to enjoy a wide choice of quality gins and all the concomitant perks of a competitive market.